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New mom left paralyzed by epidural anesthetic

Epidural anesthesia

(NaturalNews) A 34-year-old British woman was left paraplegic – paralyzed from the waist down – after receiving "routine" epidural anesthesia during the birth of her first child.

Irrum Jetha can now only move around via wheelchair, suffers chronic pain, and goes through five hours of agonizing physical therapy daily in the hopes of restoring some mobility.

Her lawyers are investigating whether the hospital acted negligently by acting too slowly once it became clear that she was suffering side effects from the anesthetic.

An "epidural" is not a drug, but rather a method of delivering one: via injection into the "epidural space" just inside the spine. Epidural anesthesia is used by roughly a quarter of UK women undergoing a hospital birth, and roughly 50 percent of US women undergoing hospital birth.

Did delays worsen the damage?

But just what is in these commonly given anesthetics, and are they as safe as their heavy usage would suggest?

The goal of an epidural is to dull rather than completely numb sensation in the lower part of the body. There is no traditional formula for doing so, and each anesthesiologist puts together their own personal cocktail of local anesthetics (such as bupivacaine, chloroprocaine or lidocaine), narcotics (such as fentanyl, sufentanil or morphine), and other drugs (such as epinephrine or clonidine).

In August 2014, Jetha received one of these injections upon the advice of her doctor, who said that her heart – which had a pulmonary valve replaced when she was 19 – might not be able to stand the strain if her body was allowed to sense the pain of childbirth.

"The birth itself was a fabulous experience," Jetha said. "I was euphoric afterwards. And when Adam cried 'It's a girl' we were both in tears."

Three hours after her child was born, she still had no feeling in her legs, but her doctors dismissed her concerns. Another nine hours later, she was becoming alarmed. It was another hour, though, before her doctors admitted there was a problem. She was transferred to another hospital to receive an MRI – which took another four hours.

There, doctors discovered that Jetha had suffered a side effect known as epidural hematoma; the epidural had ruptured a blood vessel, causing a clot to form, and that clot had compressed the spinal cord, causing nerve damage. She had to undergo a life-threatening operation to remove the pressure from her spine. Her life was saved, but she was left paralyzed from the waist down.

Jetha says that one of the hardest things had been her sudden inability to care for her daughter as she'd thought she would.

"There have been so many mother-and-daughter bonding moments that I have missed. And I will never get those back," she said. "Every time I see a mother walking with her baby I am in tears.

"I've gone from being an active young wife to being entirely dependent on Adam. Not only does he have to care for Amelie, he has become my carer too."

'Common' doesn't mean 'safe'

The British National Health Service (NHS) lists epidural hematoma as a known but "very rare" side effect of epidurals, and says these clots can "very rarely" lead to nerve damage.

Other known potential epidural side effects include shivering, ringing of the ears, backache, nausea, and difficulty urinating or loss of bladder control. A small number of women develop severe headaches caused by leaking spinal fluid.

Epidurals can also dramatically change the course of labor. They can cause blood pressure to drop abruptly, necessitating further medications and interventions. Women receiving epidurals need to remain lying down, which can slow labor and lead to cesarean delivery. Epidural medications pass to the infant, and can cause changes in fetal position, heartbeat or breathing, thus increasing the risk that emergency interventions, including cesarean, will be needed. Evidence suggests that babies delivered with epidurals are more likely to have trouble establishing breastfeeding.

According to the NHS, other potential side effects include infection developing weeks later, sometimes causing nerve damage; convulsions; difficulty breathing; and death.

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